The music floated softly through the icy blackness of space, rising and falling gently with the union of a thousand thousand different voices, all blended together in a marriage of sound that modified and transformed itself from one melody to another without ever losing the perfect harmony that bound the voices together into a single being with one, unalterable rationale for existence.
Suddenly, the music swelled into a crescendo of such passionate intensity that tendrils of the sound stretched outward across the mindless expanse of space, briefly brushing against other consciousnesses, touching, then moving onward, reaching, searching, probing, until...
The final note fell from Nyota Uhura's lips and lingered briefly then faded slowly into silence. For the space of a single heartbeat, no sound could be heard in the usually bustling recreation room of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Then...
"Bravo!" called one voice. "Wonderful, Nyota!" The room exploded into a cacophony of cheers and applause.
Uhura raised her bowed head to reveal tears clinging to lifting eyelashes. She blinked, once, twice, as though shaking off a sense of bewilderment, then flashed them a tremulous smile.
"Thank you," she whispered, then rose and slipped out the nearby doorway before anyone could stop her. Frowning, Jim Kirk rose from the front row and started to follow her, but an immovable wall intercepted him, blocking his way. Kirk met the Vulcan's hooded gaze and widened his own eyes in inquiry.
"Let her go, Captain," Spock advised. "I believe the lieutenant needs a few moments alone."
"She's upset," Kirk protested.
"Yes," Spock agreed. "The music evoked memories and emotions that she finds painful right now."
"You're interpreting her emotional well-being, Spock?" Leonard McCoy joined the other two men. "What makes you think you're qualified to know what she needs?"
Spock shifted his placid gaze to the doctor and tapped the instrument held in the curve of his arm. "Lieutenant Uhura revealed her distress to me when she asked me to accompany her at this concert, Doctor."
"Why is she so distressed?" Kirk asked in genuine concern.
"She received a communication today concerning the death of a former teacher and mentor of hers. It was his music she performed tonight."
"Etienne AuClaire was her teacher?" McCoy's voice conveyed his surprise.
Spock lifted one eyebrow, the only indication of his own surprise at the doctor's recognition of the composer.
"Yeah, Spock, I know his work. I didn't know Uhura knew him personally, though. I didn't even know he taught. You'd think composing the greatest works of our generation would be enough to keep him busy."
"Quite," Spock agreed. "However, the lieutenant explained that Maestro AuClaire wished to share his knowledge and technique with more than just his compositions. To that end, he maintained a small, select school in which he tutored no more than three promising students at a time."
"Just three?" Kirk whistled tunelessly. "And Uhura was one of them?"
Spock inclined his head in acknowledgment. "She studied with him during the time she attended Starfleet Academy. AuClaire's school was also located in San Francisco."
"I knew she was good," Kirk commented, impressed by this new knowledge of his communications officer. "But I didn't know she was that good."
"The disadvantage of a tin ear, Jim," McCoy admonished. "She's that good."
"Indeed," Spock agreed.
At that moment, Uhura re-entered the room to a renewed round of applause. She nodded her head once in acknowledgment of her crewmates' praise, then approached the three senior officers. "Thank you, Mister Spock," she said once she was in ear-shot. "Your accompaniment was superb, as always."
"As was your singing, Miss Uhura," he returned.
"I'll say," McCoy added with a smile, then sobered. "My condolences on the loss of Maestro AuClaire," he offered. "Spock just told us."
"Yes, Lieutenant," Kirk said. "Your concert was a fitting tribute to a musical genius."
She smiled faintly at the captain. "A tribute, certainly," she acknowledged, "and definitely a heart-felt one, but I'm not sure how adequate it was. My voice is a bit rusty compared with the time I studied with Etienne."
"In such a tribute," Spock intoned, "it is the sentiment that is most important. I believe Monsieur AuClaire would have been deeply honored by your performance." He turned to Kirk. "If you will excuse me, Captain, I have an experiment in the science laboratory I must check." With that, he left.
"Sentiment? Spock?" McCoy shook his head in bewilderment.
"Mister Spock is capable of much sentiment," Uhura protested.
Kirk smiled at her gently. "Yes, he is. May I offer you a drink?" He gestured at the impromptu bar where Montgomery Scott was doing the honors, then offered her his arm gallantly.
"Why, thank you, Captain." She accepted the arm.
In the corridor outside the recreation room, Spock walked toward the turbolift, then stopped, his steps faltering an instant while he cocked his head to one side, as though listening. Then, with a slight shake to his head, he resumed his stride.
Hours later, Uhura hummed softly as she carefully drew the brush through her hair in preparation for bed. She smiled gently, a little sorrowfully at the memories the lilting melody evoked. Her years of study with the maestro had broadened and deepened her knowledge of and appreciation for music in general and, specifically, AuClaire's exquisite compositions. This particular aria had always been a favorite of hers, and she found it both soothing and comforting to recall it now despite the pain that accompanied any remembrance of the double loss of a friend and musical genius.
As Uhura continued her solitary humming, the music seemed to swell and expand around her, her simple melody opening up to embrace an entire array of counterpoints and harmonies as though dozens, no hundreds, thousands of voices joined with hers to salute the maestro's brilliance.
And then the music changed, mutated into a new form, something that was as much within her mind as a part of her voice. Uhura stopped, confused. That last bar wasn't part of AuClaire's composition, and it wasn't merely a reinterpretation on her part. It was something entirely new, different, drawing from the original and expanding on it to create a completely new sound.
Uhura shivered and glanced uneasily around her quarters. Then she straightened her spine and lifted her head, firmly banishing the musical ghosts from her cabin and from her mind. Slipping between the cool sheets of her bunk, she ordered the lights to dim and settled down to sleep, exhausted from both her performance and the emotional upheaval that came with the news of AuClaire's death.
After all, it was just her imagination. There were no voices in her cabin but her own. No voices in her head.
There couldn't be.
She was alone.
Uhura slipped quickly between the parting turbolift doors and, tossing an apologetic glance at the slight frown on Jim Kirk's face, took her place at the communications station, allowing the ensign sitting there to go off duty a full twenty minutes late. With a slightly shaking hand, she inserted the earpiece and began to go over the reports from the previous shift while monitoring the various subspace channels for anything more definite than the usual background noise that constantly filled the mythical void of space. Gradually, the shaking in her hands slowed, then stopped as her fingers began to move more confidently across the keys of her board in motions so familiar they were second-nature to the communications officer. Then, abruptly, her hands stopped and hovered above the keys, beginning to shake again. She reached one hand up to pull the earpiece from her ear and stare at it in puzzlement, replaced it, then removed it again, frowning at it as she gave her head a quick shake.
"Are you all right, Miss Uhura?" the Vulcan intoned, drawing her gaze upward from the offending earpiece.
"Yes, sir," she replied a little uncertainly, then added, "It's just..." She paused, shrugged and forced a tremulous smile. "I keep hearing things," she confessed.
"Things?" the Vulcan responded in a tone that was somewhere between a request and a demand for a more precise explanation.
"Music," she answered in a soft voice. "Maestro AuClaire's music ... and yet, not, somehow."
Spock nodded his head as though in understanding and returned to his own station without further comment. Uhura frowned again at his reaction, then stiffened her shoulders and replaced the earpiece once more, deliberately ignoring the hint of music that seemed to emanate from the instrument, and instead concentrated on her constant search for subspace transmissions, distress signals or any other signs of intelligence she might detect.
Uhura slept soundly, her body motionless, mind drifting aimlessly as she breathed deeply and rhythmically. From out of the void of her dreamless sleep, a single note took form within her mind, building to a crescendo, then fading gradually until it was little more than a whisper. And then it expanded, extended, sliding up a half note, then down two full ones. As she slept on, floating gently on the waves of the music in her mind, her breathing changed rhythms. No longer even, it took on a syncopated beat, and her fingers began to tap out the same pattern on the Starfleet-issue sheets of her bed.
She continued to drift, her half-conscious mind feeling as though her very body was lifting from the bed, floating along with the music in her head, moving upward higher and then sideways, approaching the bulkhead so steadily she somehow knew that even its solidity would fail to stop her movement. In seconds, she would float through the metal hull of the ship and into the vacuum of space outside. A tiny part of her consciousness wondered at her certainty of what was to come and her lack of fear. But mostly she just listened to the music and allowed herself to follow it to its logical conclusion -- whatever that might be.
As she drew even closer to the bulkhead, ready now to what surely was to come with the music still swirling all around her, a new rhythm broke suddenly through the one in her mind: Rap rap rap rap ... pound pound pound ...
Uhura's eyes snapped open, and her gaze darted around the room in confusion. Where was she? What was that sound?
"Uhura!" Rap rap rap. "Let me in, Nyota!" Christine Chapel's voice broke through Uhura's disorientation. She glanced at the chronometer by her bed. Nineteen thirty hours. She had been supposed to meet Chapel a half-hour earlier for dinner and, exhausted from her restless sleep the night before, had just lain down for a brief nap before joining her friend. She had slept longer than she'd planned.
Rap rap rap. "Nyota! Are you all right?"
Uhura brushed the hair back from her face. "Coming, Chris," she called, jumping from the bed and hurrying across the room to release the lock and allow Chapel into her quarters. "Sorry. I was tired and just lay down for a few minutes," she tossed over her shoulder as she pulled clothing from her closet and rapidly dressed. "I'll be just a minute..."
Christine Chapel reported for duty the following morning with perplexed frown lines clearly visible across her usually smooth forehead.
"Christine," McCoy asked. "What's wrong?"
She shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure, Doctor, but I'm concerned about Nyota."
"Concerned? Why?" When she seemed reluctant to answer his question, he took her by the arm and led her back to his office, sitting her in a chair facing his desk, then taking the seat behind the desk. "All right. Now explain."
Chapel shrugged again. "It's not anything big, but she's just not acting like herself, and I can't help worrying a bit."
"Do you think you could be a little more specific?"
"Well, the only thing I can really pinpoint is that she seems so tired. She was late for dinner last night, and when I went to check on her, she was sound asleep. It took me nearly five minutes of pounding on her door to wake her."
"No, except that it wasn't the first time. She admitted that she had been late for duty yesterday morning ... said she had overslept then, too." Chapel paused briefly. "And that's just not like Nyota."
"No, it isn't," he agreed. "Did she have any explanation?"
"No, but I suspect it's a kind of depression, stemming from her grief over Maestro AuClaire's death."
"Perhaps," he acknowledged, knowing that his nurse's diagnostic instincts were almost as skilled as his own.
"Anyway, I made her promise to come see you if it happens again."
"Good. Maybe she'll be okay," he said, relieved that Uhura was willing to seek medical help if she truly needed it, then added to reassure Chapel: "But I'll give her a thorough examination if this continues."
"Thank you, Doctor. I wasn't sure I should say anything, but--"
"You did the right thing, Nurse."
Kirk glanced toward the communications station and frowned. Once again, the ensign from gamma shift was still on duty a full -- he glanced at his chronometer -- half-hour beyond her shift. His frown deepened. It wasn't like Uhura to be late, and this was the third day in a row that she had been. And two calls to her quarters had failed to yield a response. He frowned again.
"Who is Lieutenant Uhura's back-up for this shift?"
"Lieutenant Palmer, sir."
"Send for her, then go off-duty as soon as she arrives." He punched a button on his chair. "Kirk to Sickbay."
"Bones, check on Lieutenant Uhura. She's late again."
"On my way."
McCoy shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back again as he pressed the buzzer at Uhura's quarters for the third time. A born worrier himself, all of his paranoid tendencies were screaming at him full force. After all, if both Chapel and Kirk were worried about Uhura, then his own concern was more than reasonable. When she still failed to answer the buzzer, he finally entered the medical override code and stepped inside as the door slid open, crossing the room to the bed where the lieutenant appeared to be deep in sleep.
"Lieutenant Uhura," he said a little louder, then frowned as the silence continued to fill the room, only her deep breathing breaking its stillness. Taking a seat at her side, he waved the mediscanner over her body, then stood and crossed the room to the comm unit on the wall. "McCoy to Sickbay. Medical emergency. I need an gurney in Lieutenant Uhura's quarters -- now!"
He returned to Uhura's side and shook her gently, although he knew it was unlikely to accomplish anything. "Come on, Nyota," he pleaded with her. "It's time to wake up now, honey. Please, wake up."
But Uhura slept on.
"Keep me advised, Bones."
"Will do. McCoy out."
Kirk released the comm button on his chair and raised his hand to stroke his chin in puzzlement. It didn't make sense. Finding Uhura in a deep, coma-like sleep from which he was unable to waken her, McCoy had transferred her to Sickbay, where he had so far been unable to determine a reason for her condition.
The captain glanced toward communications where a blond lieutenant was filling in. Lieutenant Palmer was a competent officer, but Kirk preferred to have his first string officers on duty with him at all times. Besides, he missed Uhura's smiling face -- and the melodies she constantly hummed whenever she was at her station. He stood up suddenly, decision made.
"Spock, you have the conn. I'll be in Sickbay if you need me."
"Acknowledged." The Vulcan moved smoothly from his science station into the captain's chair as Kirk strode quickly to the turbolift.
"Where is she?" Kirk demanded as he entered Sickbay.
"Back there," Nurse Chapel nodded, and Kirk headed for the bed where McCoy was standing over Lieutenant Uhura.
McCoy took a deep breath and let it out slowly before answering the unspoken question. "I don't know, Jim," he said. "I really don't know. I can't find a damned thing wrong with her. She just won't wake up."
"There has to be a reason. People don't just fall into a coma for no reason."
"Yes, Doctor," McCoy drawled in sarcasm. "I'm well aware of that fact. I didn't say there was nothing wrong, just that I can't find anything wro--" He stopped abruptly as the ship's communications system interrupted.
"Bridge to Captain Kirk."
"Kirk here, Lieutenant."
"Captain, we're picking up a distress call. I haven't determined yet where it's coming from; it's too faint," Palmer informed him. "But it's definitely a distress call."
Kirk glanced across the room to the bed where Uhura lay, McCoy standing by her side with a puzzled, frustrated scowl on his face. He pressed the comm button again. "On my way, Lieutenant. Bones?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. 'Keep me informed.' Aye, aye, sir, Captain, sir."
Kirk opened his mouth with an automatic reprimand, then shut it without speaking. McCoy was entitled to his sarcasm. It wasn't often that the chief medical officer was as perplexed by a case as he was this time. And Lieutenant Uhura was a favorite ... of everyone.
"The distress call definitely was from one of the solar systems in this sector, Captain," Palmer informed Kirk as he exited the turbolift onto the bridge.
"Can you pinpoint it any closer, Lieutenant?"
"Negative. It was so badly garbled, all we got was the name Constellation, then we lost it."
"Sir," Sulu reported next. "We are now within the limits of system L370, but I can't seem to locate--"
"Captain," Spock interrupted, "sensors show the entire solar system has been destroyed. Nothing left but rubble and asteroids."
"That's incredible," Kirk said, gaze focused on the main viewing screen. "The star in this system is still intact. Only a nova could destroy like that."
"Nonetheless, Captain," Spock replied, "sensors show nothing but debris where we charted seven planets last year."
Kirk stared at the instruments at Spock's science station, then turned toward the helmsman. "Continue search pattern," he directed.
"Aye, aye, sir," Sulu acknowledged.
"Entering limits of system L374, sir," Sulu informed a pacing Kirk some hours later. "Scanners show the same level of destruction."
Kirk scratched his head as he crossed the upper deck. "Every solar system in this sector blasted to rubble and still no sign of the Constellation. Matt Decker's in command. What could have happened to him?"
"Captain, the two innermost planets of this solar system appear to be intact," Spock informed Kirk as he reached the Vulcan's side and leaned forward to peer at the science terminal.
"Sir," Palmer interrupted them, "I'm picking up a ship's distress beacon."
Kirk turned to face her. "Try to raise it, Lieutenant," he said, then returned his attention to Spock.
"I have it on sensors, Captain," the Vulcan said. "By the configuration, a starship, stopped in space. She appears to be drifting."
"No answer, Captain," Palmer reported from communications. "All I get is the automatic beacon."
"Sensors not recording normal energy output," Spock added.
"Approach course, Mister Sulu," Kirk ordered the helmsman as the entire bridge crew watched the starship grow ever bigger on the viewing screen.
"It's the Constellation," Kirk said.
"God damn it!" McCoy exclaimed down in Sickbay as the red alert signal startled him. "What the hell?" He crossed the bay for the comm unit, intent on demanding an explanation from the captain, but before he could reach it, the red-alert was downgraded to a yellow, and Lieutenant Palmer's voice came through the speaker just as he was about to punch the button.
"Bridge to Doctor McCoy."
He jabbed the button. "McCoy here. What the hell's going on, Lieutenant?"
"The Constellation is adrift in space directly in front of us, Doctor," she replied. "We have been unable to elicit a response from the crew, and the captain wants you to join him in the transporter room to accompany a damage control team."
McCoy glanced back at Uhura, then quickly made up his mind. "On my way, Lieutenant."
Grabbing his tricorder and a bag with emergency medical supplies, McCoy tossed over his shoulder as he headed for the doorway: "Keep an eye on her, Nurse. I'll be back as soon as I can."
With McCoy on the Constellation and no other patients in Sickbay, Chapel had little to do except inventory supplies and hover over Uhura. Since she had already completed one inventory that week, she felt no guilt over spending the entire time at her friend's side -- at least all of the time that she wasn't taking calls from all over the ship asking about Uhura's condition.
News of the popular communications officer's mysterious illness had quickly spread from deck to deck until it seemed there couldn't be a single crewman unaware that she was lying unconscious in a sickbay bed.
"Sickbay, Nurse Chapel here," she answered still another call and was surprised at the voice that came through the speaker. "No, Mister Spock. I'm sorry, but there's no change. I wish--" Her voice broke, and she paused a moment to get her emotions under control, unwilling to subject the Vulcan to something she knew would only add to his own distress.
"There is no reason to be 'sorry,' Miss Chapel," Spock said before she could resume her unfinished sentence. "There is little to be done until the doctor returns or she awakens on her own." He paused. "Please keep me informed if there is any change in her condition."
"I will, Mister Spock," she replied, adding so softly that only his Vulcan ears allowed him to hear: "Thank you."
"'Mister Spock knows his duty,'" McCoy grumbled as he made his way down the corridor from the turbolift to Sickbay. "Do I? You're damned right I do. I just don't know how the hell I'm supposed to do it when I can't run the tests that'll prove that swaggering nincompoop is 'medically or psychologically unfit for command.' Of course he's unfit. Any half-educated nitwit could see that, but I have to prove it."
He reached Sickbay and entered with barely a pause as the door slid open. With a curt nod at Nurse Chapel, he made his way through the sickbay to his office, where he dropped heavily into his desk chair and dug into a drawer for a bottle of Saurian brandy and a glass. He was still on duty, but he needed a drink badly at the moment.
Pouring two fingers into the glass, he downed it in a single swallow, then renewed his muttering: "Planet-killing doomsday machine, shell-shocked commodore and a valuable captain and friend left behind on a drifting hulk of a starship while we go off on a wild-goose chase, attempting to blow up something that simply refuses to be blown up. It's enough to drive a man to drink."
With those words, he looked at the brandy bottle on his desk and the glass at its side, briefly considered pouring another drink, then changed his mind and put the brandy away. "Better not now," he told himself. "Later, when this mess is over, I can get blind, stinking drunk. But not now."
McCoy looked up as he became aware of Christine Chapel's presence in the entry to his office. "Yes, Christine. What is it?"
"It's about Nyota, Doctor," she replied. "She's still in that ... fugue or whatever. We still can't wake her."
McCoy sighed and rose from the desk. Another problem he couldn't seem to solve. "Let's go take a look at her, Nurse. Maybe something'll come to me this time."
He took two steps, then stumbled as something seemed to shake the starship. Regaining his balance, he headed for the comm unit, then lost his footing completely, falling to the deck as a second, more intense tremor swept through the Enterprise. "What the hell?"
Struggling back to his feet, the doctor made it to the comm unit this time and pressed the button just as a third shudder shook the ship. "Bridge, Lieutenant Palmer here," came the voice through the speaker."
"What's going on, Lieutenant?" McCoy demanded.
"Commodore Decker ordered us to fire on the planet-killer," she replied. "All it seemed to accomplish was to make it mad, and it fired back."
"Severe casualties on decks three and four," she replied. "You'd better get ready down there, Doctor."
"We'll be ready," he answered grimly. "McCoy out." He looked at Chapel. "You heard her, Christine. We have patients on the way. Uhura'll have to wait."
"That should do it, Ensign." McCoy crossed the sickbay to a sink to wash his hands as Chapel assisted the injured crewman to his feet. Hands clean, McCoy looked across the bay at the nurse. "Who's next?" he asked.
"That's the last of them," she answered.
"That's all?" he asked, surprised there weren't still more casualties to deal with. "How many does that make?"
"Seventeen in all," Chapel said. "Six we kept here for observation, eleven more either returned to duty or to their own cabins to recuperate. None seriously injured, thank goodness. We were lucky."
"Damned right we were!" the doctor exploded, his anger returning as soon as the emergency was past. "That commodore could have gotten us all killed." He stalked over to the comm unit and jabbed the button. "McCoy to bridge."
"Bridge here. Lieutenant Palmer speaking."
"What the hell's going on up there, Lieutenant?"
There was a brief pause, then Spock came on line. "Commodore Decker is dead, Doctor. I am once again in command of the Enterprise, and the captain is rigging the Constellation to serve as an explosive device in an attempt to destroy the planet-killer."
"Oh, is that all?" McCoy drawled. "Then perhaps you have time to run a few shipwide inspections and schedule a formal dinner party?"
"Now is not the time for levity, Doctor. The captain is still on the Constellation, and the transporter is not yet functioning adequately to rescue him."
"Damn," McCoy muttered. "Scotty and the others on the damage control team?"
"They have returned safely, and Mister Scott is attempting to repair the transporter now." Spock broke the connection briefly, then returned. "The captain requires my attention now, Doctor. Spock out." The connection was broken again.
"Damn," McCoy repeated, rocking back and forth on his heels. "Double damn." He didn't like being stuck down in Sickbay while Jim Kirk was in trouble. He considered going to the bridge now that Decker was out of the picture and Spock back in command. Then he dismissed the idea. There wasn't anything he could do for Kirk right then. He glanced around the bay. Chapel had all of their patients from the planet-killer's attack settled for the moment, which meant he was finally free to check on his other patient.
Inside the private cubicle, McCoy stood studying the readouts above Uhura's bed. The vitals were all still within normal range, but barely, and they were still dropping. He studied her face a minute, then took her hand gently in his own.
"Come on, darlin'. It's time to wake up now." He spoke gently, coaxingly, but still she slept on, apparently unaware of his presence. "Please, darlin'," he said. "Please wake up for me."
But Uhura didn't respond.
Spock continued to stare at the viewing screen long after learning that Kirk had made it safely back to the Enterprise. The planet-killer seemed somehow benign now that its gaping maw no longer glowed with its inner fire. Was it finally neutralized?
At Sulu's words, the Vulcan crossed to the helm station and leaned over to check the sensor readings. "Energy output zero; radiation level normal." He breathed an inaudible sigh of relief.
Kirk burst between the turbo-lift doors, and Spock approached him at the upper deck. "Welcome aboard, Captain." He glanced quickly at the viewing screen. "Signs show all energy sources deactivated. It's quite dead."
Kirk nodded briefly in acknowledgment, then turned to the helm. "Mister Sulu, ease us back to minimum heading. Conserve power as much as possible. Lieutenant Palmer," he turned to communications. "Tell Mister Scott to expedite repairs on the warp drive."
Together, Kirk and Spock began to walk along the perimeter of the bridge, remaining on the upper deck. "Poor Matt," Kirk murmured. "He gave his life in an attempt to save others. Not the worst way to go."
"Indeed, Captain," Spock replied. "I presume your log will show that Commodore Decker died in the line of duty."
"Indeed it shall, Mister Spock. Ironic, isn't it? Way back in the Twentieth Century, the H bomb was the ultimate weapon -- their doomsday machine. And we used something like it to destroy another doomsday machine. Probably the first time such a weapon has been used for constructive purposes."
"Appropriate, Captain," Spock suggested. "However, I can't help wondering if there are any of those weapons wandering around the universe."
"Well, I certainly hope not," Kirk replied. "I found one quite sufficient."
McCoy looked up from his chair at Uhura's side. "Yes, Nurse."
"Lieutenant Palmer just reported from the bridge. The planet-killer has been destroyed, and Captain Kirk has returned to the Enterprise."
McCoy stared at her silently a moment.
"I just though you should know."
McCoy shook himself from his preoccupation. "Yes, of course, Christine," he assured her. "You're quite right to do so. Thank you." He looked at Uhura again. Once more Kirk and Spock had managed to work a miracle. Now if they could just come up with one for--
Instead of answering her, he headed for the comm unit to contact the bridge.
"Bridge, Kirk here."
It was a welcome voice, but McCoy didn't take the time to tell him so. He had other, more important things on his mind right then. "Now that your crisis is over, Captain, can you spare Spock for a while?"
"Spock? I suppose so. Why do you need him, Bones?"
"I have an idea, Jim. I'm not sure, but maybe, just maybe, he can reach Uhura for me and help me find out what's happening to her."
"He's on his way."
The Vulcan stood next to the biobed in Sickbay, silently watching the woman who lay there. She was unmoving except for the barely perceptible rise and fall of her chest and the slight but constant flickering of her eyelids.
"Not dreaming," McCoy said as he came to Spock's side. "It looks like it, but she isn't. The brain pattern is all wrong. Her mind's busy, constantly active, but it's not with dreams."
"If it is not dreams, then what is it?" Spock asked.
McCoy shrugged. "I'm not sure. It's as though she's creating something in her head, something very involved and very precise -- not the wandering aimlessness of a true dream state." He sighed and sat wearily in the empty chair next to the bed. "I wish to God I could figure out exactly what it is. Then I might be able to help her instead of just standing ... er, sitting here and watching helplessly as her vitals drop lower and lower."
"See for yourself." The doctor gestured toward the readouts above the bed. "If they drop much lower, she'll simply die. And I don't have a clue as to why. Damn it! People don't die for no reason."
"They do not," Spock agreed, his gaze still fixed on Uhura's face.
McCoy looked at him. "Whaddaya mean?"
Spock continued to watch Uhura. "There is a reason for the lieutenant's decline. We must find it."
"What the hell do you think I've been doing the past three days?" McCoy felt that he shouted the words, but in reality his voice was barely raised although it displayed all of the anger and outrage of a true shout. Years spent working among the sick had taught him how to do that. It was a valuable tool for a doctor.
"I know that you have been doing everything that you can to determine the reason for Lieutenant Uhura's condition," Spock assured him. "However, there are some things you cannot do."
"Things that you can?" McCoy asked.
"Yes, Doctor. Things that I can do."
McCoy stared at him for a moment. "You're talking about a mind-meld, aren't you?" He was relieved that the Vulcan had offered on his own without the doctor being forced to ask, although surely Spock had suspected that was his intention when he initially asked Kirk for the first officer's assistance.
"It would seem the logical thing to do," Spock said simply.
McCoy shook his head slowly, suddenly questioning his own, earlier conclusions. "I'm not so sure."
"If we do nothing, what will happen?" Spock asked blandly.
McCoy gave him an icy stare. "She's going to die, probably within a matter of hours."
"Then we must do this. If I am able to determine what is happening within her mind, perhaps we will have some means of helping her."
McCoy sighed, glad to be talked out of his sudden doubts. "Maybe you're right, Spock. Hell, I hope you are. I sure don't have a clue as to how to help her. Go ahead." He waved toward the bed. "Do your dirty work."
Spock raised one eyebrow. "The work I am contemplating is far from dirty, Doctor. Undesired, perhaps. But not dirty."
"Yeah, I know. Just ... do it. Let's get it over with and see if there's some way we can help her."
Spock took a step closer to the bed and reached out to place his fingers against the proper points of Uhura's face. His touch was gentle, caring, but not loverlike. He concentrated: "My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts," then moved forward carefully so as not to startle her with his invasion.
And found himself surrounded by sound. It ebbed and flowed around him: melody and countermelody; voices rising and falling with interwoven strains that should have created an unbearable cacophony and instead melded into a single harmonious whole that was seductively compelling, drawing him forward enticingly, relentless in their demand that he join them.
He had felt the touch of these voices before, briefly, but had resisted them by exercising the mind disciplines he had learned as a child on Vulcan. His shields had been up then, however, providing him with protection from the beginning, isolating him from all around him and thus isolating him from the alien invasion.
He had no such defenses now. He was trapped inside Uhura's mind, surrounded by the music. Shields down, mind open, he was being drawn into the maelstrom along with the Human woman. Soon he, too, would be lost to its sorcery.
Suddenly, the contact was broken, and Spock found himself sitting on the sickbay deck. He shook his head and looked up to find Kirk and McCoy standing over him. McCoy was bending over with a mediscanner, a scowl of concern on his face as he quickly checked the Vulcan's vital signs.
The scowl on Kirk's face wasn't so benevolent. It was pure anger.
"Just what the hell did you think you were doing?" the captain demanded in an icy voice.
"I was attempting to determine why the lieutenant is dying," Spock answered.
"Dying?" Kirk turned to McCoy. "Bones?"
McCoy nodded. "Yeah, Jim, she's dying. If we can't figure out what's happening in her head, she's going to simply die, for no apparent reason. And I can't do a thing to stop it."
"So you let Spock try?"
The doctor shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. We didn't know that he'd get trapped in there. Besides, I thought you understood that when I asked for his help."
Kirk ignored the last sentence and returned his attention to the Vulcan. "What happened?" he demanded. "What's going on in her mind?"
"Music!" Kirk roared. "Music doesn't kill you."
"I believe this music does," Spock replied. "It is compelling, demanding, irresistible..."
"You resisted," McCoy pointed out.
"I did not," Spock corrected him. "It was the captain's intervention that broke the link and, therefore, the pull of the aliens."
"Aliens?" Kirk and McCoy asked together.
"Yes," Spock answered. "There is an alien entity -- pure energy -- that is creating the music. It has captured Miss Uhura's mind, drawing her in, attempting to add her to its many voices."
"And if she joins it?" There was genuine concern in Kirk's voice now.
"How much longer?" McCoy asked.
Spock shook his head, indicating his lack of knowledge. "I do not have enough data to extrapolate an accurate hypothesis. However, I do not believe it will take much more time. She has, in effect, already been drawn into the music; she simply has not yet let go of her own reality."
"Can you help her?"
"No," Kirk interrupted. "You saw what happened when he tried. I won't lose both of them."
"The captain is right," Spock added. "If I re-enter her mind alone, then we both will be absorbed by the aliens."
"Well, that's that then." McCoy conceded, his tone conveyed the depth of his sadness despite the apparent callousness of his words. "Damn it!" he contradicted himself. "That's not that. There has to be a way. Something we can do. We can't just stand here and watch her die."
"I don't like that idea any more than you do, Bones. But no one seems to have any alternatives to propose. And I'm not going to let Spock be drawn into that ... whatever it is along with Uhura. I won't lose them both," Kirk repeated his earlier declaration.
"Perhaps..." Spock started, then stopped.
"Perhaps what?" McCoy asked. "Come on, man, if you have any ideas, toss them out."
"I am not sure..."
"Tell us, Spock," Kirk urged. "Tell us your idea, and maybe together we can evaluate its possibilities."
"If we were on Vulcan, I could use a healer as an anchor while I reached into the lieutenant's mind and drew her back from the music." He shook his head. "It is too far to Vulcan. She will be gone before we could get there."
Kirk frowned. "Could someone else serve as the anchor?"
"It would be ... difficult. Without the Vulcan mind disciplines, they, too, might become trapped."
"But only if they were susceptible," Kirk suggested. "Bones, how many times have you told me that I'm tone deaf?"
"What're you talking about, Jim?"
"If I'm tone deaf, then wouldn't I be naturally resistant to the allure of the music?"
"Maybe, but we can't know that for sure."
Spock was studying Kirk's face. "I believe the captain is right, Doctor. It may work."
"No," McCoy countered. "I'm the doctor here, and I won't authorize this."
"I can overrule you."
"Not when it comes to your health, you can't."
Kirk frowned. "Bones, we have to try this. I think it will work. Spock thinks it will work. And, admit it, you think so, too. You're just being overly cautious."
"I'm being justifiably cautious," McCoy corrected. "You said you wouldn't lose them both. Well, how the hell do you think I feel about the possibility of losing all three of you?" He sat back down in the chair and leaned forward to bury his face in his hands. "One death is unacceptable. Three would be unconscionable."
"Bones," Kirk spoke softly, reassuringly. "We're not going to die. I promise."
"And what am I supposed to do if you break that promise? Kill you?"
Kirk grinned. "Yeah, that would be acceptable."
McCoy looked up and scowled at the lame joke, then slumped his shoulders in defeat. "All right, you win. Go ahead and try it. Just don't blame me if you fail."
"If we fail, Doctor, we will be unable to blame anyone for anything."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"Should we begin now, Spock?" Kirk asked.
Spock hesitated, then asked McCoy, "Would it endanger the lieutenant if I took a short while to meditate and regain control over the mental disciplines first, Doctor? I believe my control was weakened by the abrupt termination of the first meld, and the second is more likely to be successful if I am in full control."
"I'm sorry, Spock," Kirk immediately apologized. "I shouldn't have--"
"There is no need for apology, Captain," Spock replied. "You did only what needed to be done. Perhaps a Vulcan could have broken the meld less abruptly, but if you hadn't broken it..." He allowed the sentence to trail off, knowing there was no point in completing it.
"How long do you need?" McCoy asked.
"One hour should be sufficient."
McCoy studied the readouts above Uhura's bed, then quickly made up his mind. "Go ahead, Spock. One hour. But no longer. If we put this off any more than that, I don't know if even you can help her."
"Unfortunately, Doctor, it is far from certain that I can help her at all. But I shall endeavor to do my best."
"That's all we can ask," Kirk said.
Exactly one hour later, Spock returned to Sickbay. To the casual eye, there was no difference between his appearance now and that of an hour earlier. But the three conscious people in Uhura's cubicle could see the minute difference, and all three were thankful for it.
"Are you ready now?" Kirk asked.
"I am ready, Captain."
"Then let's get on with it," McCoy urged.
Spock nodded and took a step closer to Kirk, placed his fingers carefully on the psi points of the captain's face and opened the link they shared. Then, as a precaution, he erected a barrier in Kirk's mind to protect him against the threat of the alien. Keeping the link open, he turned back to Uhura and approached the biobed, once more reaching out to join his mind with hers.
Seconds later, he was inside, again surrounded by the compelling, seductive quality of the melody ebbing and flowing within Uhura's mind. But this time he found himself able to resist its allure, firmly anchored against its power by the slender thread of his link to Kirk.
Slowly, Spock moved forward, feeling the thousand thousand voices sweep over him as he searched for the one voice he knew so well, knowing he had to find her soon or it would be too late. He concentrated, and one by one he began to separate the voices from each other, breaking down the entity's song into its many individual components. He heard a bass voice here, an alto there; next a baritone, then a tenor and a lilting soprano.
He heard voices he couldn't even identify as to type, alien sounds that, separated from the whole, lost their harmoniousness to his ear and became strident, shrill, unpleasant. Briefly, he wondered how such sounds could combine with the others to create such an enticing melody, then he pushed the thought away as something to be contemplated later, once he had completed his mission.
Spock continued his search. It seemed to take hours but could only have been minutes. Uhura didn't have hours, and she was still here, somewhere. She had to be or he wouldn't have been able to remain.
Unless the alien had taken over his mind, after all, and he, too, was trapped in his music. He reached out experimentally and found his anchor to Kirk remaining intact. No, the alien hadn't captured him yet -- which meant Uhura was still with him, though barely. He resumed his search with a renewed purpose. He had to find her -- and soon.
Suddenly, he heard a familiar strain. Charlie's our new darling, our new darling. It was amazing how such dissimilar melodies could combine into such a harmonious whole. But Spock was suddenly grateful -- to whom, he wasn't sure -- that they could. The lieutenant's song was guiding him to her. Another moment or two and ...
Her face floated before his "eyes," as serene and beautiful as ever. Mister Spock? Good; she recognized him.
Miss Uhura, you must come with me.
But, the music. I must--
No, Lieutenant. You must come with me now.
I must join with the music, she continued to protest.
No, Lieutenant, he replied. You cannot join with the music. You will lose yourself if you do, and you are needed on the Enterprise.
I am needed for the music.
Others can join with the music. You are needed here; we need you here.
She hesitated before answering this time, and Spock felt a leap of hope inside. He was getting through to her. He was sure of it. Come with me now, Lieutenant. The captain is waiting for us.
The captain? Waiting for us?
Yes. He needs us; he needs us both.
Go to him.
No, not without you.
You have to, Mister Spock. He does need you. He can get another communications officer, but he really needs you at his side.
I will not leave without you. A Vulcan man could be just as stubborn as a Human woman.
Not without you, he repeated.
She hesitated a moment longer, then sighed. All right, Mister Spock. You win. I'll come with you.
Now, Lieutenant. He reached a hand out to her.
Now, Mister Spock. She took his hand; he took a mental step backward, then another and still another until the music began to fade. He moved faster, and finally the music disappeared.
"Spock? Answer me, Spock!" Kirk's voice broke through the final strains of the complex melody, pulling Spock from Uhura's mind and back to the benign atmosphere of Sickbay. He opened his eyes and looked at Kirk.
"I am here, Captain." Spock turned back to the biobed and searched Uhura's face. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically three more times in the deep breathing of sleep, then she seemed to catch her breath briefly before resuming the more natural pattern of wakefulness.
And she opened her eyes. "Mister Spock?"
"I didn't dream it?"
"No, Lieutenant. It was no dream."
She looked past him at Kirk. "Captain?"
His mouth widened in a smile that made her catch her breath. "Welcome home, Lieutenant. We missed you."
She smiled back at him, then glanced to her other side where a beaming McCoy stood next to an equally happy Christine Chapel. "Yes, Nyota," the nurse said. "We're glad to have you back."
"Damned right we are." McCoy tried to sound stern, but he couldn't keep the smile from his face or the happiness from leaching into his voice. "Damned right we are," he repeated more softly.
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